1 Thessalonians 2:8-12
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 21, 2020
No one climbs Mt. Everest, the highest mountain on earth, without the help of Sherpas. Sherpas have lived in the Himalayas for centuries – and have developed extraordinary physical capacity and wisdom for negotiating Everest’s exhilarating but dangerous environment. The wise rely on Sherpas to guide them to its summit and along the way to show them its glories.
That’s what fathers at their best do as they move forward the less mature. And that’s what all of us, whether male or female, are called to do to help fellow believers grow in Christ. We show one another God’s glories and guide one another up God’s mountain of holiness.
Paul labored in love like a Sherpa over his fellow believers. He guarded them against the threats, alerted them to the wonders, and directed them to the summit. Over the Thessalonians Paul lovingly labored long and hard. He worked “night and day”, he said here, to guide them in the way and to keep them strong by feeding them with what he called “the gospel of God”. In that Paul saw himself giving an example for others to follow. He conveyed what the example involves by means of both female and male images.
Two verses prior to today’s scripture, Paul said, “We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” “Nurse” there translates, not the Greek word for a medical professional or a nanny, but for a “wet” or lactating nurse, a breastfeeding woman.
This is not the first time Paul used this image of a breast-feeding woman to illustrate how he gave of himself in feeding believers with God’s word. To the Corinthians, whom he called “infants” in the faith, he said, “I fed you with milk, not solid food.” Hearing that, we moderns might imagine either a man or a woman feeding a child with a baby bottle of infant formula; but in Paul’s day, such things were unheard of, and no one knew of any other means for supplying an infant with milk than by breastfeeding. Yet, Paul thought of himself as doing that as he shared with others the spiritual food he had within him.
Here in today’s scripture, Paul used a male metaphor to complement this female one. He said, “We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God.” Paul spoke up forthrightly so as to point people upward and onward in Christ; but he wanted to refrain from yelling or scolding, preferring to speak as gently as a mother cooing to the baby at her breast.
One father described how he taught his young son to be responsible and extend to his parents the courtesy of calling to let them know his whereabouts. When, for example, he rode his bike to his best friend’s house, they expected him to phone them upon his arrival there.
As the boy grew more self-confident, however, he grew lax about calling. The third time he forgot to call, Dad warned him that the next time it happened he’d have to return home immediately, no matter what fun he’d miss out on.
A few days later, after the boy had biked to his buddy’s house, Dad’s phone remained silent. Dad shook his head sadly and said to himself, “I guess he’s going to have to learn by being punished.” But, as Dad picked up the phone, he felt reluctant to deny the boy his good time. As he slowly punched in the number, he prayed for wisdom. He then heard the Lord say, “Treat him like I treat you.”
With that, Dad hung up after the first ring. Seconds later, though the boy’s phone had no caller ID, he called Dad. “What took you so long?” Dad asked. “Well,” the boy admitted, “we started playing and I forgot. But a funny thing happened. The phone rang once, and that made me remember.” “Well, Son, I’m proud of you for being responsible. Good job! Have fun!”
I don’t think God likes catching us being bad. So I wonder how often God rings just once, hoping it’ll jog our memory and we’ll call Him.
For us to urge, encourage and plead with one another to lead “a life worthy of God”, we need not “blow up” a person’s phone. We need not badger or berate. It is usually enough to speak the truth in love with the gentleness of a nursing mother holding her baby close to her heart. If we do it right, we may not need to say much at all.
A father was teaching his son how to do home repairs. Dad gave him detailed instructions about how to hammer in a nail effectively and, most of all, safely. But, despite Dad’s warnings, the boy was inattentive and careless; and, sure enough, he hammered his hand. He screamed with pain, Dad examined it, and then sent him into the house to immerse it in a bowl of ice.
From the house, the howls of pain continued. For, despite the throbbing in his hand, the boy just couldn’t bring himself to put it into that stinging cold. So Dad walked into the kitchen without a word of rebuke or disdain, plopped down next to the boy on the chilly tile floor, plunged his own hand under all that freezing ice, and said, “Why don’t you put hand next to mind, and let’s see how long we can keep them there together?” Ten minutes later, with a few agreed-upon breaks from the icy cold, the boy felt better. He looked up to his Dad and said, “Thanks.” A heart beat later, he added, “Dad, I know I’ll never be that dumb again.” And with their two free hands, father and son high-fived each other.
Let us labor in love over each other, like the fathers and mothers God calls us to be, that we all might lead lives “worthy of God”.